Day 1: Seems a good place to start.
Manhunter sure is an interesting game! Whether or not it’s a good game is yet to be determined, but it sure is unlike anything else I’ve played before. I’ve gone through many emotional phases during my first two and a half hours of play, including confusion, intrigue, excitement, frustration and satisfaction. In the end I’ve managed to get through day one of the game unscathed, although I don’t yet know whether the game holds any dead ends or accumulating nasties. Before I get into what exactly occurred and how I dealt with it, I have to mention the most striking thing when playing the game for the first time...the visuals!
I don't know what's scarier. The fact that there's a giant eyeball in front of me or the fact it can somehow communicate with me!
My first response was something close to disgust, which certainly wasn’t helped by an opening scene with a ridiculous looking giant floating eyeball “talking” to me in a room with bright fluorescent pink floor and green ceiling. My feelings have shifted over time however, mostly due to the strange tone of the game (being both violent and comical) actually fitting the unusually slipshod graphical style, but also due to the sheer number of graphical displays and animated flourishes that are used. Little details are included everywhere and multiple angles and viewpoints are given when only one might have sufficed. It may for once actually be a case of quantity over quality!
No stone is left unturned in Manhunter. Even getting out of bed is animated.
So what’s Manhunter all about? As mentioned in the intro, I awoke to receive instructions from an Orb, telling me to investigate an incident at the local hospital. I have no idea how the Orb actually communicated this to me and can only assume some form of telepathy was involved, but I guess it doesn’t make any difference. I was then shown a recording of the events leading up to and following the explosion on my laptop (called a Manhunter Assignment Device or MAD for short). This was all handled from a top down perspective, and I was able to watch the perpetrator move from location to location, spending time at inanimate objects before moving on. I’d already read the manual at this point, so I was aware that the most efficient way to be a Manhunter was to close the MAD each time the perpetrator leaves a location, then visit that location to investigate before opening up again and continuing until the connection is lost. With that in mind, the hospital would be my first place of interest.
The MAD display: Actually quite cool!
The_MAD_Map: Why is it so angry all the time!?
As soon as I closed the MAD I was shown a map containing a flashing marker for my apartment and a cursor I could move around with the keys (sadly, no mouse control is available for the game). I moved the cursor around until I found another highlighted location, which was the hospital. I won’t bang on about it every time I go to a new location, but it was nice to see firstly a full picture of the hospital, then closer shot of the side of the building where the explosion took place, before finally the scene settled on a close-up of the hole in the wall where control was handed over to me. This is how all locations are handled, giving you a really good sense of where you are and what you’re looking at. Anyway, the only thing I was able to do from this screen was enter the hospital through the hole, so that’s what I did.
I'm sure there are easier ways to get into a hospital.
I was then faced with what I assumed was a dead body in a hospital bed and a robot guard stopping me from gaining entrance to any other parts of the hospital. Moving my cursor over the body displayed two separate sections that I could investigate (the cursor turns into a magnifying glass). I chose the upper part of the body first, and it’s here that I received my first game over screen. Rather oddly, what first appeared to be the victims own eyes turned out to be baby Orbs that flew out of his skull. These were followed by hundreds of others that came out of the open torso and apparently ate me. I don’t really know exactly how eyeballs eat things when they have no mouths, but the Murry siblings popped up onscreen to inform me of the outcome before taking me back a few minutes before I made my fatal mistake. Well, the game might be brutal, but at least it gives you infinite chances to get things right without having to restore.
Why is it that none of the humans in Manhunter actually look human, except for the Murry's?
Sierra developers never seem to get enough of putting themselves into their own games?
While looking at the upper torso resulted in my death, somehow looking at the lower torso had no such effect. Attached to the toe of the victim was a name card with the words Reno Davis written on it. I immediately remembered from the manual that I was able to look up names in my MAD, so I navigated to the INFO section and typed in Reno Davis to see what it had to say about the poor sod. All I found out was that Reno was a 38 year old manhunter that had previously been transferred to Chicago. I still have no idea why a manhunter from Chicago was in New York in the first place, nor how he came to be in the hospital. I don’t even know whether he was already dead when the perpetrator entered the hospital or whether he was murdered at that time. Blowing up a wall and then setting hungry baby Orbs on a hospital patient seems a rather overcomplicated way of offing someone, but who knows what we’re dealing with here. There was nothing else to see at the hospital so I opened the MAD to see where the suspect went next.
Reno....(soft piano)...was it me you were looking for?
Reno didn't look any more attractive when he was alive.
After leaving the hospital the dot on the screen made its way to the Trinity Church, stood in front of a particular section for a while, and then left. I closed the MAD once again and followed the same path on the overhead map that he or she took to the church. Once inside, it became apparent that the perpetrator stood in front of the alcove on the left and lit some candles before leaving, perhaps asking for the sins of their recent crimes to be forgiven. I was able to light the match and light any or all of the fifteen candles, but nothing happened. I can only assume that I need to light very particular candles to achieve something, but since I’ve not come across anything to tell me what that order might be, I decided to move on. There was nothing else of interest in the church, so I left it behind for now and made my way to the next location of interest...the Flatbush Bar.
Churches in adventure games. I may have to devote a post to the subject one day.
This part of the game was at first a bit confusing to be honest. I could see, after comparing the recording on the MAD display to the bar layout on arrival, that whoever blew a hole the wall of the hospital took time out from their escape to play an arcade game. They didn’t seem to talk to anyone in the bar during their visit, so I felt no need to tag any of the customers that I could see on the MAD. This is an ability that I know from reading the manual, but haven’t needed at this stage. Tagging people means you can then follow their movements as well. I decided the only thing to do was to play the arcade game, but as soon as I tried, the locals at the bar grabbed me and forced me to join them in a bout of knife throwing. They first held my hand down while one of them threw knives between my spread fingers before handing me a bunch of knives and demanding I return the favour. It was here that I faced my first action sub-game, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
Never piss a jawa off...
While it wasn’t very difficult to successfully pass the test by throwing the knives at just the right times, I did get it wrong a few times, causing the knife to lodge in the man’s finger and blood to ooze out onto the table. Obviously that little accident wouldn’t please the guy, but I was pretty shocked when he picked me up by the head and squeezed until my skull exploded and my brain stuck to the ceiling, then threw my headless torso into the street. Brutal! The game really only gets away with this sort of stuff because the graphics are so low in quality the whole thing looks comical. The intended humour was made abundantly clear when the Murry family once again appeared on screen to mock my failure before giving me another opportunity to succeed. Succeed I did on about the fourth try, but reward for victory was a little unusual to say the least.
...especially when he has a large collection of knives.
The leader stood in front of me and enacted what appeared to be a very bad clothes-hanger break-dancing move. I say “very bad” because he was only using one arm while wobbling his head from side to side. I should point out at this point that I missed this signal entirely on my first play through this section because I was trying to get screenshots of what was going on. In fact, capturing all the little nuances that occur during Manhunter has been much more difficult than during the slow-paced stop and proceed nature of most adventure games. It makes me realise how difficult it must be for Chet to capture appropriate screenshots while playing RPGs without restoring a billion times. Getting back on track, since I’d not actually witnessed the failed attempt at street dancing at this point, I just figured passing the knife test was simply a way of being able to play the arcade game, so that’s what I did next.
I kinda missed this...which turned out to be kinda important.
The arcade game was called Halls, Walls, Balls & Dolls, and involves moving a character through a maze of passages, collecting kewpie dolls on the way. I figured the goal of the game was not merely to get through the maze to the exit, but to collect all the dolls on the way, so I set about achieving that goal. It wasn’t difficult, particularly as I could save and restore as many times as I wanted to, meaning it was only a matter of time. Winning the game resulted in a “You Won” screen with fireworks, but nothing else came from the victory, making me wonder what the whole bar scene had been about. I’d gained no information, nor had I picked up any items. Oh well...there was still another location to visit, so I hoped the bar’s purpose might become obvious at a later time.
Halls, Walls, Balls & Dolls: Does what it says on the box!
The next location was Prospect Park, and more specifically, the restrooms at Prospect Park. The tracker on the MAD implied that the perpetrator entered the female restroom and used the toilet before disappearing off the radar for good. I made my way into the restrooms, went straight to the cubicle in question, and tried to find something that might hint as to where they went or what they did next. The only thing that I could do was sit down on the toilet, which apart from looking really very funny in a monk outfit, achieved nothing. While sitting down I was able to flush the toilet by pushing the lever down, but that didn’t seem to add anything of value to proceedings. I was a bit perplexed to be honest, wondering why Ilmari and the like had suggested Manhunter was unlikely to offer up too much of a challenge. Was I losing my mojo??!!
When you gotta go...
After exploring all the other cubicles in both the male and female restrooms, I decided the only thing to do was to start over and pay more attention at each location. My initial expectation was that the missing link was likely to be at the church, since I’d not achieved anything at all there, but I still couldn’t find anything that suggested what the candles were for. It was only when I reached the bar and passed the knife throwing test for a second time that I witnessed the leader’s signal, and had a eureka moment! He was making a toilet flushing motion, and not only that, he was doing it three times! I restored back to the restroom, flushed the toilet three times, and watched with great satisfaction and relief (feelings that are often associated with toilets) as my character was lowered down into an underground tunnel system.
Toilet Cam: For when it's important the audience gets a great view of the action.
The arcade game may have offered up the most basic of maze systems, but the underground section certainly didn’t! It soon became apparent that I was going to have to revert to my trusty Excel map-making skills learnt during years of playing old school RPGs like Might & Magic. I spent about half an hour mapping the underground tunnels, collecting keycards on the way, and was surprised to find a 12 x 13 grid (give or take a couple of cells) once done. I really hope no kids out there tried to find their way through this section without mapping it out, particularly if you need all twelve keycards, which is yet to be seen. When I eventually found the exit into a cave opening, I was rewarded for my trouble with a medallion with a crossed out Orb on it. Its message surely couldn’t be more obvious, but its use was at the time a mystery to me. I wondered what I was going to do next, given that I’d now followed all the leads given to me, but the answer came as soon as left the cave.
Important Message: As tempting as it is, please refrain from flushing your keycards down the toilet!
We will know you're one of us if you wear this highly discreet medallion. They'll never know that you're part of the rebellion!
Another location was lit up on the map right near the cave exit, entitled Coney Island. Happy to have some path to follow, I quickly made my way there to find it was the fun park that appeared when I won the arcade game in the bar. The fun park contained three skill-testing games that I could take part in, all of which involved throwing items at other items. I could pop balloons with darts, throw rings onto bottles, or knock over dolls with baseballs. Successfully hitting three items on any of them resulted in me winning a replica orb toy, but I figured there was surely something else I was supposed to do here. The kewpie doll game sure seemed suspicious, particularly given the connection the scene already had to the arcade game. It suddenly dawned on me that the hint for the fun park must come from the arcade game, so I went back to play it again.
How many ways can you throw things at things?
Long story short (and it did take me a while for some reason), I eventually figured out that if I followed the most direct path through the maze on the video game, I collected only three baseballs and knocked over three very specific kewpie dolls (the third one in the first row, the second one in the second row, and the fourth one in the third row). Replicating this exact combination in the kewpie doll skill-testing game at the fun park resulted in the man giving me a very strange look. The meaning of this look, which was that he was waiting for me to give him something, may very well have avoided me if the Murry’s hadn’t popped up to say “I wonder what that odd look was for?” and then a more direct “He wants to see something you have!” when I won a second time. I gave him the medallion I’d found at the end of the maze and was rewarded with a data stick!
Thankfully the man who gave me the card appeared entirely trustworthy
This is pretty much where this first session ended (which is just as well as you guys are probably bored by now). After placing the stick in the MAD I received a riddle before the Orbs overrode the message. “The end is near, the way is clear, destroy the lady, before they are ready. Phil is trouble, he’s a double, he’s an eye, that’s no lie!” Besides being one of the worst examples of poetry I’ve ever come across, this message didn’t really make anything that was happening any clearer, and I was more confused when the Orbs suddenly told me that I’d had enough time and demanded “a name”. The only name I’d come across so far was Reno Davis, so that’s the one I typed in. The orbs demanded that I go back to my apartment and await further instructions, and I have no idea whether this answer was “correct” or not. Since they seem to be demanding the name of the perpetrator and not the victim, it’s likely that I haven’t given them what they were after, but there doesn’t appear to have been any consequences. Oh well...day two awaits, so I’m off to find out whether there are any repercussions to my failure.
I'm starting to think that a game with no dialogue was a great choice for the Murry's!
Session Time: 2 hours 00 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 00 minutes
Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: I've recently written a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!